Review – Women Beware Women, National Theatre

There’s a danger at the National that it’s not that the play’s the thing but that the set’s the thing. Lez Brotherston’s staging for Women Beware Women is a classic Olivier effort, all high towers and rotating set changes, and it is this that stands out rather than much else.

Women Beware Women
It’s not that there’s anything bad about Marianne Elloitt’s production (well, one thing – but we’ll come to that). The performances are solid, most notably Vanessa Kirby, Raymond Coulthard and Harriet Walter (with Samuel Barnett a smidgen off form, I thought) and the directorial decisions where they were obvious mostly well made. But it never flies off the stage and never really hums along like it should. The performances feel dwarfed by the towering set and the enormous barn of a stage, and the production never steps up to fill the space.

If I have one complaint (and of course I do) it would be the sound design which was intensely annoying. Quite why directors and sound designers (Ian Dickinson here) insist on playing the same bird chatter CD on loop every time anybody on the London stage is deemed to be outside is beyond me. By the time you’ve suspended disbelief to concede that the inside of a concrete building near a roundabout near Waterloo is actually Florence, it’s not that much of a stretch to get to it being a Florentine garden – realistic background sound isn’t really necessary. It’s just distracting and pointless when it Chekov but when it’s Shakespeare or Middleton then it’s bordering on the unforgiveable – part of the pleasure of these works is the clarity, exactness and poetry of the language and to hear this over the chattering birdsong is a bore.

Alright, rant over. Back to the play? Solid, enjoyable and well done – but no revelations.